What can we learn from our response to the pandemic when it comes to homelessness? The Kerslake Commission has three recommendations.
Few will remember the Covid-19 pandemic with any kind of fondness. But it was also a moment in which ambitious solutions to homelessness were implemented.
The Government’s initiative Everyone In ensured that people sleeping rough were put up in hotels and other forms of accommodation, and remarkable progress was made. So what lessons can we learn from our pandemic response?
The Kerslake Commission was set up, with St Mungo’s as the secretariat, to answer that question. Joe Walker, our Senior Policy and Public Affairs Officer, explains three of its recommendations:
“During the pandemic, the Government increased rates of universal credit by £20 a week, to recognise that people needed extra support. But it just brought people to a level that they needed to sustain themselves. When that was removed, it had a huge impact.
“With benefits levels already inadequate, the freeze to housing benefit means that people can’t cover their rent. So local councils spend around £60m a month on temporary accommodation.
“The rates of housing benefit should cover the bottom 30% of rent prices. Currently it’s more like 5%, and that estimate is generous. Go on Rightmove or Zoopla and see if you can find any properties for the local housing benefit rate. You can find maybe two or three if you’re lucky.”
“We’re not in a pandemic anymore, so the response to ending homelessness over the long term will look different. We won’t be able to open hotels and student accommodation again for people to be housed in.
“This country has failed to build an adequate supply of social rented housing. That puts huge amounts of pressure on the private rented sector, so rents are sky high. So people can’t afford to move on from homelessness, or they fall into homelessness because they can’t afford to sustain their housing.
“Even if the Government decided to build more housing, getting bricks in the ground will take the best part of a decade, so we need intermediate solutions: regenerating housing that has fallen into disrepair, more robust measures on empty properties, and transferring current developments that are for private or shared ownership into social rented housing. Alleviating pressure at the bottom end of the market is the most effective way of preventing homelessness.
“Because there’s not enough social housing, our clients are placed into the private rental sector when they move on from homelessness. The private rental sector is great for some: flexible, easier to live nearer workplaces in the city centre. But what people recovering from homelessness need is safe, secure and affordable housing, which the private rental sector is not.”
“Around half of people sleeping rough in urban areas are non-UK nationals. During the pandemic the Government was clear that anyone, regardless of their immigration status, should be brought in off the streets.
“Now the funding no longer exists, and the Government isn’t clear about what local authorities can do to support people who have limited entitlements to public funds due to their immigration status.
“At St Mungo’s, we don’t just support people on the front line when they’re experiencing crisis; we want to change the systemic issues that cause people to be in that situation in the first place. When you support St Mungo’s, yes you’re supporting people who need outreach support and placing in accommodation – but you’re also supporting an organisation that is committed to ending homelessness and rough sleeping in the long term.”
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